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November 13, 2012

Volunteerism Important to United Way Campaign

By Heidi Opdyke

United Way

Donating money isn't the only way to give to the United Way.

Being involved and volunteering is just as important.

Gloria Gruber and Pat Schaller have been working as co-mentors for the past four years as part of the Be a 6th Grade Mentor after-school program at Pittsburgh Allegheny Traditional Academy Magnet School on the North Side.

"Just last week we met our new mentee, a sixth grader," said Gruber, who said the program is designed for mentors to stay with the same student through eighth grade.

They said knowing students has been rewarding. Schaller said she ran into a former mentee while attending an eighth grade graduation of another.

"It was nice that she remembered me and it meant something important to her," Schaller said.

The relationships also have been a way for the two women to give back.

"Pat and I have been very blessed," Gruber said. "It's been really great to get to know these youngsters better and to help the kids to become more engaged in school and to work harder. We've seen results - more mentees making the honor roll, decreased suspensions and improved attendance."

The program is a part of the Pittsburgh Promise, which provides up to $40,000 for college to students who live in the city, attend Pittsburgh Public Schools for grades 9-12 with at least 90 percent attendance record, graduate with a minimum 2.5 GPA, and earn admission to any accredited public or private post-secondary school in Pennsylvania.

Mentors have a variety of activities they can do with students during their 45-minute weekly sessions.

"We are provided a structured workbook, which centers around values and encourages discussion on topics such as respect, commitment, careers and volunteerism. We can help with homework, or we can play games that build teamwork, it's pretty open. The program also brings in speakers and provides field trips," Schaller said. "There are usually three or four mentor sessions going on in each classroom, as well as the people overseeing it. We have support."

Communities in Schools, a United Way organization, oversees the program at the school. But the mentor relationship goes beyond the classroom. One of their mentees was invited to participate in a math camp over the summer, and she invited Gruber and Schaller to visit.

"I think it meant a lot to her to have us visit and hear about the program, and see a presentation that she had worked on with her classmates," Gruber said.

The United Way of Allegheny County is committed to helping children succeed in school through its Be One In A Million initiative. With opportunities for tutors and mentors, the United Way's goal is to recruit 4,000 volunteers through partnerships with local government, corporations, schools and agencies.

According to a 2007 study commissioned by the United Way of Allegheny County, more than a third of all fifth graders in the county cannot adequately read, and in many of the high schools, one in two students drop out.

But it's not just youth who benefit from United Way agencies. Financially struggling families, seniors, young adults at risk and more are aided by the many health and service organizations that receive assistance.

Megan Worbs, administrative assistant for Equal Opportunity Services at CMU, said that Carnegie Mellon's United Way site is promoting an "Agency of the Week" throughout the campaign, with the idea of informing the university community of the work that different nonprofits are involved in.

Last year, the university community raised $182,000 for United Way and the organizations that United Way supports in our region. This year's campaign runs until Dec. 21.

To donate and track the university's progress, visit

CMU Campaign Can Aid Hurricane Victims
Hurricane Sandy has affected millions, and millions more are stepping up to help. You can, too, through Carnegie Mellon's 2012 United Way campaign through Dec. 21.

United Way Worldwide has created a Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund that is being managed by United Way of New York City. You can give directly to the fund by making your pledge through the CMU campaign using code 11059086. All contributions, no matter the amount, will help to make a significant impact. Make your pledge today at